The GOP's Unworkable Plan to Defund Obamacare



Obamacare's Republican critics in Congress have argued repeatedly that the law simply won't work, and that its supporters need to face reality. Some of them ought to take the same critical eye to their own plans to defund the law, which are certain to fail.

Defunding the law would be desirable—if it were possible. But the chances are essentially nil that the GOP's strategy would result in that happening. The idea, championed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a letter released last week, is to refuse to support any continuing resolution, or debt limit increase, that does not also defund the health law. No measure to fund the government can pass without the support of Republicans, so the plan is to use that leverage to force Democrats to agree to defund Obamacare.

The obvious problem with the plan is that, despite Obamacare's poor polling, Democrats aren't going to agree to defund their signature law. But the more immediate problem for the defunders is that the majority of Republicans seem wary of signing on to this plan. Lee's letter has just 11 signatories. A similar letter put forth by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) in the House attracted just a little more than 60 votes—not even close to a majority of the House GOP. And while that letter also teed up a defunding fight, it allowed legislators the flexibility to eventually sign on to a compromise that does not defund the health law. Even with more flexibility to negotiate, in other words, most Republicans just weren't willing to commit.

Does that make them spineless? No, it just makes them in touch with reality. Democrats control the Senate, and President Obama holds the veto pen in the White House. There's no way a bill to defund the president's signature achievement—one his administration has been working extremely hard to push past the finish line—at the last minute.

The only leverage Republicans conceivably have here is the ability to cause a government shutdown. But that's the leverage of a man surrounded by cops with a gun pointed at his own head. Some might like the idea of a government shutdown, but it still wouldn't get Republicans any closer to actually defunding Obamacare, becauase they'd lose the inevitable confrontation. There would be a big political showdown, which would almost certainly backfire against Republicans, for reasons that Ramesh Ponnuru lays out here. Republicans wouldn't then end up pushing the president into doing what they want. But they might end up alienating some of the public and perhaps even boosting the president's slouching poll numbers.

This is not a case of weak kneed Republicans running from a fight. No less than Sen. Tom Coburn, not exactly a slouch in the government-cutting, Obamacare-opposing department, told The Washington Examiner's Byron York last Friday that the defunding plan was "not an achievable strategy. It's creating the false impression that you can do something when you can't. And it's dishonest."

To some extent, this is an example of bad tactics and desperation. No one really thinks it will work. Not even most supporters. But it's indicative of the GOP's deeper strategic pickle when it comes to opposing Obamacare, and fighting health policy battles generally. The GOP coalition has agreed on opposition to Obamacare since the law's passage. But when it comes to health policy, that's really the only thing that the party has been able to unite around. And a big part of the reason is that Republicans came late and underprepared to the health policy game. Democrats spent the years between the Clinton health care initiative and Obamacare building a rock-solid health policy infrastructure—itself an expansion of the liberal health policy sphere built following the collapse of the Kennedy health plan in the 1970s—thus ensuring that both the policy apparatus and the votes would be there when the time came. And in 2010, that work paid off. Obamacare passed. Just barely. But it passed. And it's still here today.

Republicans, on the other hand, all but ignored health policy for all those years. Yes, there were think tank wonks and a handful of administration staffers who were deep in the weeds of health policy, but the party and its allies didn't invest in developing ideas or consensus. Your average Republican legislator didn't have a great grasp of the issue, and would have struggled to tell you what the party was actually for when it came to health care.

And in too many instances, that's still the case.

Take a look at this floor speech given by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) on the day the House GOP voted to delay Obamacare's individual and employer mandates. It's borderline incoherent at times, such as when Sessions says that "the reason why health care has become more expensive is that the Federal Government does not pay their fair share for Medicare or Medicaid. This United States Congress does not adequately pay their fair share for our seniors or for poor people, and so what happens is it's taken out on people that work." Is he arguing that the problem is that the federal government doesn't pay enough for Medicare and Medicaid, two of the most expensive federal programs, and the programs most responsible for the nation's projected long-term debt problems?

Or maybe not. Sessions also argues that Obamacare "will not work in America because America has a vibrant free-enterprise system whereby a person, whether they're an employer or an employee or just as a regular citizen, could contract to get the health care that they would choose to have." This ignores the fact that, thanks to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, government spending already accounts for almost half of all health spending the in the United States. Worse, it comes dangerously close to suggesting that the only serious problem with the American health care is Obamacare, and that everything would be fine if we simply repealed the law. 

This is the problem for the GOP when it comes to health policy: It has no idea what it really wants, except repealing Obamacare, and maybe protecting Medicare for today's seniors. (Mitt Romney's primary health policy message, you may recall, was that Obama should not have cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare.) Which is probably why the party is having such trouble fighting a law that's clearly having more than its share of bureaucratic troubles, and why GOP legislators are finding it so difficult to harness the very real public frustrating and confusion with Obamacare. Republicans, having never made the issue a priority, can offer no real alternative of their own except: not this. On health policy, Democrats may not have something that people like, exactly, but they have something. And they have that something because they spent the time to build it. As a party, and as a political institution, Republicans have never spent the time and effort required to unite the bulk of the party, and enough of the public, around a workable alternative. Instead, it has unworkable plans to fight the president's policy. 

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  1. What about Reason’s unworkable plan to post A.M. links?

    1. They’re trying to keep somebody other than Fisty from posting first.

      And the Mourning Lynx will probably be back-dated, too.

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    2. Major Hangover from all the cocktail parties.

      1. What are General Disorder and Corporal Punishment, chopped liver?

    3. Here is an exclusive video with Mike Lee explaining his action:


      1. Here is a non-exclusive article with Erick Erickson defending Mike Lee:


        I haven’t the slightest idea how accurate it is. It’s all getting so abstruse, I only know what I read.

        1. Look at who is for Lee – Cruz, Paul – and who is against him – Rove etc.

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  2. What about Reason’s unworkable plan to defund the AM Links?

    1. the HIVE has been born.

  3. What about Reason’s unworkable- oh, never mind.

  4. The Morning Links let us all down one last time.

      1. Do you have to cast such a pall over everything? It’s apalling.

        1. no reason to be grave about it.

      2. You are looking for the Mourning Links.

  5. So someone tell me how the last shutdown hurt team red?

    1. The press sold it to an overly credible public as irresponsible. Since most people don’t know just how little of what the government does is actually useful.

      1. I find my libertarianism getting more ardent the higher my income. I pay 25% for fucking what exactly?

        1. I pay 25% for fucking what exactly?

          There’s your problem. You have this relationship backwards in your mind. You’re paying to get fucked, not the other way around.

          1. You’re paying to get fucked, not the other way around.

            I, for one, have no problems fucking to get paid.

        2. Wait til it hits 35%. Then you’ll really start getting pissed.

          1. I am one of those responsible idiots paying to be in a good school district, so that means I get a hefty property tax bill and a regional income tax. Add to that the state income tax, and I bet my tax bill is at 40% already.

            1. Oh yeah, I was just talking about my federal income tax liability.

              I’m lucky if I get a dollar for each one *some* government agency gets.

            2. A regional income tax? Jesus christ.

              1. I know right? I am just waiting for the school levy campaign to start and the sales tax to increase.

                1. Why do you hate children so much?

                  1. Because they won’t get their sticky fingers out of my fucking wallet?

                  2. You think the schools they send kids to are a gift? Most of them are more like halfway houses.

      2. So what? If the GOP announced a cure for cancer, the press would convince a credulous public that it’s irresponsible.

        Do it anyway. The long-term benefits, both political and actual, will more than make up for whatever short-term PR fallout the press gins up.

      3. “The press sold it to an overly credible public as irresponsible. Since most people don’t know just how little of what the government does is actually useful.”

        Exactly this. And that’s what’ll happen if they try to defund Obamacare this way, too. Never mind that it might be the right thing to do, the perception will be that evil conservatives are pouting because they lost the first time ACA came around, and so now they’re willing to sink the whole government because they’re jelly. And they hate children, and they hope your aged mother gets cancer and dies.

        Unfortunately, as true as it may be, you can’t just explain to people that things cost money, and you can’t just wave a magic wand and get universal health coverage without raising revenues or cutting something else.

        1. You may be a little out of date. Even with a billion dollars of free adverts by the whore media, Obama’s popularity and ACA’s popularity are dropping.

          If the Republicans take the Senate in 2012 they have one man mainly to thank. Edward Snowden.

  6. More gestapo raids. I hope these folks don’t have dogs.


    1. I have a hunch most of those revocations are related to protection orders, which can be had for almost any reason against almost anyone.

  7. The situation with the Morning Links is unacceptable.

    Someone should take responsibility.

    The raw meat is said to be grey with a slippery texture similar to squid or scallop.

  8. I sure am not one to say everything would be fine if we repealed PPACA, but it sure would be better. When you’re in a hole, the first step is stop digging.

    1. But if there’s a possibility that everything would be fine if we repealed PPACA, don’t we have an obligation to *try*?

  9. Here is FreedomWork’s case for Mike Lee’s action http://insomniaclibertarian.bl…..acare.html

  10. the reason why health care has become more expensive is that the Federal Government does not pay their fair share for Medicare or Medicaid

    Old folks and Wahhabi Christians are the only reliable GOP voters.

    1. CHRISTFAGS!!11!!!

  11. you know for a magazine called “Reason”…

    1. Some hair of the dog that bit you!

  12. Don’t any of you people dare respond to it. It’s Troll-Free Monday dadgummit.

    1. but its points are so cogent, how could one refuse to parry with rapier wit?

      1. Keep it up and I’ll make sure it brings its Shit Show Carnival to Van Andel Arena.

        1. will there be artisanal mayonnaise?

          1. in enema spades.

  13. Son, I am disappoint. Where are muh links.

    So, is anybody else watching The Bridge on FX? It’s pretty damn good. Feels kinda like The Wire on immigration instead of the Drug War. Also, the main character is so socially inept that she must be an elusive female libertarian.

    1. I’ve got a Hulu window open until I get around to it. Having just moved to El Paso I’m interested to see how much it resemblers reality and whether it’s just a less weird version of Mieville’s The City & The City.

    2. A damn fine show it is.

  14. Your average Republican legislator didn’t have a great grasp of the issue, and would have struggled to tell you what the party was actually for when it came to health care.

    If only they had some catchy yet vacuous phraseology, they could win this fight.

  15. Did anyone see Jack Lew on MTP yesterday?

    He’s a terrible mouthpiece for the administration. He sounded like he memorized a script, and he shot his wad in about 30 seconds. He needs to take lessons from Axelrod about smooth lying.

    1. Sadly only Chris Wallace had the gumption to call him on his shit. And when Wallace is the most courageous of the MSM, that’s saying something.

  16. Mark Ames, my favorite batshit insane lefty, has a Radley Balko attack out.

    1. Behind a paywall.

    2. Many of Balko’s progressive followers, unaware of his long career inside the GOP think-tank network, have mistaken Balko’s criticisms of police abuse and the War On Drugs with a larger progressive politics; they’ve assumed he shares many of the same progressive assumptions they do.

      Yep, reporting on police abuse is only valuable in so far as it advances the progressive agenda.

      Disgusting fascist cocksuckers.

      1. “But it left many of his progressive-minded followers baffled,”

        Any chance most of them were already baffled before they became “his progressive-minded followers” ?

    3. From the single paragraph, I’m going to assume the entire thing is a “He worked for CATO and Reason, therefore his points are crazy and you should shun him” article. Not the first time a batshit lefty has written that about Balko.

      1. Holy crap. After reading the whole article, not only was I right, but it’s crazier than I thought. It looks like they’re trying to claim that the only reason that Radley was reporting on Cory Maye was to allow Mississippi to pass a SYG law?

      2. “From the single paragraph, I’m going to assume the entire thing is a “He worked for CATO and Reason…”

        Gotta get “KOCK!” in there somewhere.

        1. The Weiner thread is over there.

      3. I find leftists have a real problem with the ad hominem fallacy: “That was reported on Fox News/Breitbart/whatever, and so I can just dismiss it without engaging the actual argument.”

        1. When the only tool you have is a hammer …

    4. I like how Mark Ames just out-and-out lies in his post. No, Balko was not forced to “back down” after some heroic effort by Ames’ useful idiots. He pointed out that the Castle Doctrine was also in the instructions, and it too was not applicable. Basically, a lot of shit that was not applicable is in standard jury instructions.

    5. Ah Mark……. still mad that Matt gets more attention and column inches?!

  17. despite Obamacare’s poor polling

    There seems to be an assumption that the poor polling means that most of society agrees with us. But how many of the people who don’t like Obamacare don’t like it because they want something even more socialist?

  18. Libertarians criticizing Republicans because their plan is politically unworkable? That’s a good one. Pretty much every Libertarian initiative is politically unworkable.

    I guess guys like Lee can’t win. When they go along with Democrats they are called spineless, when they try to mount an offensive against Socialism they are politically naive.

    Libertarians are always saying the 2 political parties are equally as bad but Lee is actually trying to fight the good fight here. If more people supported it maybe he would have a chance of succeeding.

    1. +1

      And it’s especially disingenuous to argue that the Republicans brought this upon us by failing to force through their own statist solutions quickly enough.

      Yeah, if only the GOP had broken our legs early on, the Democrats wouldn’t need to keep whipping us for trying to escape.

    2. So, Republicans have been accusing us “libtards” of only putting forth unworkable plans and now they put up one even most of their own party doesn’t believe in and we Libertarians are the hypocrites??

      I would accuse you of trolling, but you seem way to deep in your own asshole to be a parody.

      1. I was referencing the last paragraph of the article, where the author claims that the Democrats have an edge in this debate because they’ve “done something”. The GOP did all they could reasonably be expected to do: they held the status-quo.

        But, since you mention it, the defunding plan is only unworkable if you consider a shutdown to be a bad thing.

  19. But how many of the people who don’t like Obamacare don’t like it because they want something even more socialist?

    And how many supporters would OCare lose if it was more (explicitly) socialist? That part of the equation is always left out.

  20. “Republicans, on the other hand, all but ignored health policy for all those years.”

    That’s an understatement. They had the chance to pass health savings accounts, or whatever it was they wanted to address the issue, but did nothing. And now that ACA is essentially a right wing idea, and already had been implemented by one Republican governor, that too is out.

    They have nothing but complaining.

    1. And now that ACA is essentially a right wing idea,

      Calling Obamacare a right wing idea is the height of silliness. It shares some mechanisms with a few Republican ideas. But the bill itself was written and passed by Democrats with no significant Republican support. For good or ill, Obamacare is and will always be a Democratic plan and idea.

      Personally, I think that even Lefties realize how bad a bill Obamacare is, expect it to fail, and are ardently trying to convince everyone that it’s really all the Republican’s fault.

      1. Still problems with reading skills, JW? I said “essentially,” which means exactly what you said, that it shares some core tenets with Republican ideas. Including of course the individual mandate which they now despise because it came from a Democrat in the ACA. And a Republican governor actually used the individual mandate to pay for his own health care plan.

        1. Individual mandates are fascist bullshit universally, but for constitutional purposes there’s a huge difference between a state-level mandate and a federal one. So that complicates your “which they now despise because it came from a Democrat” narrative. It could just as well be a constitutional issue. Or racism. Probably racism. DU should know for sure. Do check and let us know the next time you’re getting your talking points, won’t you?

  21. The more Republicans try to sabotage the ACA, the more fodder they give Democrats to blame all its failings on Republican obstructionism. They would do better to step out of the way and let ACA fail on its own. Sure, this may take some time, but in the meantime they can regroup and come up with a workable alternative, so that right about when team blue is saying, “well, ACA didn’t work so we obviously need single-payer,” they can actually present something better.

    1. Probably true.

      I do wish that Cato/Reason/whoever would get their act together and write and promote a convincing set of health care reforms that the much of the public might buy. No, not a Pie in the Sky libertarian purist solution, but something incremental and convincing to non-libertarians.

      1. Avik Roy has a couple of them at Forbes.

        1. No doubt they are around, but they need to be promoted in the media. Rand Paul and etc. need to reference them. If *I* have a hard time finding them, the average voter has no clue.

    2. The Republicans will be blamed anyway. And having spent all their time running away, they will have accomplished nothing. Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.

  22. If ObamaCare goes forward, it will never be repealed; no big government entitlement ever is repealed.

    At that point, why do we need a Republican Party?

  23. Its now missing the point to simply fall back on “the majority of Americans dislike Obamacare.” That may be true, but what they like are many of the individual elements that exist in Obamacare.


    Even Republicans themselves like children being allowed to stay on parent’s health plans, no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, insurance companies made to spend 80% of their earnings on actual insurance, and they even supported an increase to Medicare tax for those making over $250K. And that’s the Republicans in the country!

    So the bigger question then becomes for Republicans, since those cats are now out of the bag, how will you provide the same, and then how will you pay for it?

    No wonder they just sit back and complain.

    1. Even Republicans themselves like children being allowed to stay on parent’s health plans

      19 to 25 year olds are not children! What a moronic comment.

      1. Hmmm…interesting. My son is 26, and he still is a child of mine. He will still be one of my children at any age. Its just a matter of understanding language, my friend.
        Really, JW, get just a bit of critical reading skills…it will help you along.

        1. Your definition of what constitutes one of your children is by no means similar to the legal definition of an adult. ” just a matter of understanding language” indeed. Then again, you’ve amply demonstrated from your retardation in the Trayvon Martin case threads that you have no comprehension of the difference between legal language and whatever bullshit colloquialism makes you feel good about yourself, so color me shocked.

          If your son will be your child at any age, should he ever have to get his own insurance?

          1. Hey PM! Good to hear from you again. It always pleases me that I so rankled your feathers in the Martin case that you still can’t get over it, and so you resort to being a tough guy behind your keyboard. It always makes my day!

            Indeed he does have to get his own insurance at some point, and according to the ACA, that would be when he turns 26. He still is one of my children then, just as he always will be.

            Try remedial lessons on understanding language in the law, PM. Ah, but that would take effort, so no go for you.

      2. Lets put it this way, when you are 80, and someone asks you if you have children, do you say “No, I have adults?”

    2. IF Obamacare delivered on its promises consistently, then it’s here to stay, even if it blows up the budget. But the chances of that happening is…. nil.

      I’m not under any illusion that the scandal plagued IRS will be able to enforce this law. By July 2014, there will be millions of Americans who either pay the penalty or just go uninsured. If you’re unemployed, you’ll be enrolling in medicaid.

      And there’s no chance in hell that the doctors and nurses union WON’T be demanding pay raises and less hours in response to the increase in patients. You think waiting time will discourage them? Haha, they’ll wait. If it’s free they’ll wait. If they can’t, they may sue.

      1. If you have kids under 25, its delivered consistently. If you had a pre-condition, its delivered consistently. If you got a check back in the mail because your insurance company did not spend 80% of its revenue on actual insurance, its delivered consistently. If you were able to buy insurance cheaply on one of the exchanges, its delivered consistently.

        And most importantly if you live in states that support the plan and have implemented their own exchanges (New York and Maryland), it seems like its working. In states that have not (Florida and Georgia), not so much.


        1. Well the primary promise of Obamacare was cheap/free care with no consequences. Good luck with that. When your employer drops you into an exchange because you’re cheaper as a penalty than an insured employee and you get to go pay the 100%+ premium increases being seen in the vast majority of the states that aren’t New York; or your employer keeps you part time to avoid having to insure you and you don’t make enough to afford adequate coverage even with your subsidy and end up not only going uninsured, but paying a nice penalty at the end of the year for the privilege… yeah, not so much indeed.

  24. You wouldn’t think that the GOP house leadership was intentionally trying to fail would you? Hard to say, because conservatives take the GOP to be the stupid party. In this case they could be idiots who are trying to be smart and failing miserably. In any case, stupid useless gestures are what the congressional GOP is all about.

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  26. This was one of the most ignorant articles on the subject of stopping Obamacare I have read. Jesus Christ what else can the opposition party do. The people get the government they deserve and the Republicans are trying to prevent it and even the fo-liberatatians won’t let the government work because it would be useless. The Republicans have to draw a line in the sand somewhere and this was it. It may not be popular to de-fund government here but that is what taking a stand means. If the people don’t like it now just wait, it will get worse, it always does when you get the government you deserve.

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